Closing the Employment Gap by Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce

How we do it?

STEP-UP OMAHA! recruits, trains, and places prepared Omaha youth and young adults age 14 to 21, in mutually beneficial paid summer jobs and work experience opportunities. STEP-UP OMAHA! builds on the Empowerment Network and community partners’ successes in hiring and placing over 8,000 participants over the past fifteen years. Based on its commitment to building a highly competitive workforce of the future, the City of Omaha is prepared to make a significant investment in helping to expand the employment program.

Here are the four ways that you can invest in this vitally important initiative:

1. Hire participants from the initiative and provide a high-quality work experience

2. Provide work experience opportunities that are subsidized or partially subsidized

3. Sponsor participants financially. Participants will be placed on a separate work site

4. Make a financial contribution to support the initiative

Who are we?

The Empowerment Network and City of Omaha in collaboration with community partners are working to provide opportunities for youth and young adults to gain valuable job training and work experience during the summer. We’re working to provide jobs, internships, work experience, vocational training, academic recovery and remediation, life skills training, and community service opportunities.  Major funders include the City of Omaha and Charles E. Lakin Foundation.

Over 100 organizations and business have provided worksite opportunities for participants. In addition, local foundations and businesses including the United Way of the Midlands, Omaha Community Foundation, Office of Violence Prevention, American National Bank, CHI Health, Mutual of Omaha, WoodmenLife, Google, Cox Communications, Obama Foundation and Weitz Family Foundation have provided financial support over the past fifteen years.

In 2012, the City of Omaha, Empowerment Network and community partners challenged the business community, philanthropists, community organizations, and individuals to help us employ youth and young adults.  Businesses, organizations, foundations and other supporters have responded.

In 2019 we were successful in raising nearly $2.7M in financial commitments and connecting 700 youth and young adults to work and employed 46 community coaches and staff.

In 2020 – 2022, COVID-19 limited the size of the program to 500 participants, but our team was able to deliver a virtual career exploration and in-person job training and internship program for youth and young adults. In addition, we offered job training programs in the areas of construction, OSHA certification, mask making, social media, IT, marketing and entrepreneurship.  The team also had over 200 year round participants and facilitated a winter cohort experience including exposure to STEM, mask making, fashion, food, OSHA, drones, construction and entrepreneurship.

Our goal for 2024 is to connect between 700 youth and young adults to career exploration, jobs, work experience, internships and valuable hands-on job training experiences through cohorts.

Why we do it?

While Omaha overall experiences an overall 3% unemployment rate on of the lowest in the nation, in targeted areas within our community residents are facing upwards of 10% to 15% unemployment.  Data provided by the University of Nebraska Omaha shows that the program has worked.  Teen unemployment has been drastically reduced in Omaha since the launch of Step-Up Omaha.

Another key reason for Step-Up Omaha is that employers are facing challenges of recruiting and retaining employees to fill key positions. Step-Up Omaha is a key ingredient to help bridge this gap and also helps to diversify the workforce with talented youth and young adults.  Early exposure to opportunities in Omaha will help to develop and retained a dynamic and gifted workforce.

The Empowerment Network, Mayor’s Office, City Council, and community have identified jobs and job training as the number one priority in our city. In response to this priority of providing job training, work experience, and employment opportunities to address the severe unemployment and underemployment in high poverty areas of the city, the City of Omaha, Empowerment Network, and 20+ community partners have launched STEP-UP OMAHA! Summer Training, Employment Pathway, and Urban Pipeline.


Step-Up Omaha is based on the Empowerment Network’s initial Great Summer Jobs collaboration with community-based organizations between 2008 and 2011 which was responsible for engaging over 1,500 youth and young adults between the ages of 14 and 29 in work experience, internships, and job training opportunities. The groups worked together on a comprehensive basis to help create positive opportunities for these participants to experience the workplace and generate income during the summer months.

As a result of the program, many of the participants have gained full-time employment, some have returned to school to complete their GED or gain a high school diploma, and others have continued their education by attending college. Participants have been placed on work sites including corporations, non-profits, and other organizations.

A partial list of current and past participants, contributors, and sponsors since 2008:

100 Black Men
African-American Achievement Council
American Family Insurance
American National Bank
Bank of the West
Bellevue University
Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering
Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop
Blue Cross Blue Shield
Building Bright Futures
Charles B. Washington Branch Library
Charles Drew Health Center
CHI Health
City Sprouts
City of Omaha
ConAgra Foods
Cox Communications
Creighton University
Dairy Queen
Davis Companies
Douglas County Treasurer’s Office
Eastern Nebraska Community Action Partnership
Family Housing Advisory Services
First Data
Habitat for Humanity
Henry Doorly Zoo
Hilton Hotels
Holland Foundation
Holy Name Housing
Hope Center for Kids
Jimmy John’s
Kaplan University
Lindsay Manufacturing
Lozier Foundation
Max I Walker
Methodist Hospital
Metropolitan Community College
National Park Service
Nebraska Humane Society
Nothing But Net
Omaha Economic Development Corporation
Omaha Minority Community Development Corporation
Omaha Public Schools
Omaha Star
Omaha Steaks
Physicians Mutual
Pinnacle Bank
Salem Baptist Church
Salem’s Children Center
Salvation Army
Security National Bank
South Omaha Business Association
Taco John’s
Turning Point
Urban League of Nebraska
Weitz Foundation
Wells Fargo Bank